I have been listening to my young friend Michael Mattice‘s debut CD, Comin’ Home, quite a bit lately. It’s been really well received, putting him regularly near the top of the “hot releases” in acoustic blues list from Amazon. The mp3 album has been as high as #18 on their top 100 and currently sits at #84 in acoustic blues. A really prodigious start for a self-produced album with no real promotion outside of the word of mouth created by Mike’s shows. Like I said here before, based not on sheer talent (of which he has loads) but on his devotion and drive, I see big things for him.
But the point of this is that listening to Mike brought me back to one of my first musical loves, the late blues great John Lee Hooker. Oh, I had favorite bands and songs but it was John Lee who I felt first spoke to me directly. I remember coming across an old beaten up copy of one of his albums from the 50’s when i was in my teens. It was a revelation, a sonic slap in the face with distorted electric wails coming from his guitar, all in a mesmerizing rhythm.
I didn’t know anything about the man at the time, didn’t know that he couldn’t read or his place in the history of the blues. Didn’t even know of his rebirth a few years before my finding his album as a result of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, when youngs Brits discovered and brought the music of the great bluesmen to the world’s attention, giving them new and greater fame than they had had in their primes.
None of that mattered. It was just the groove on that album that counted.
I found and listened to more of John Lee’s music over the years. I was intrigued by the constancy of much of it, the driving rhythm that is his signature which pervades most of his work. Some might call it repetition. I didn’t see it that way. It was all about nuance and subtle explorations within the form and performance. You know a John Lee Hooker song immediately but each is different and carries its own weight and emotion.
I carried that thought with me when I began painting and hoped that my work would operate in that same way. I wanted to have that repetitive quality so that the work would be easily identified as mine but to have the differentiation occur in the individual performance of the act of painting. By limiting what I painted I was able to go deeper into an exploration of the subtle aspects of the composition. They sometime looked similar but were often widely different in tone and emotion.
When it works I feel like John Lee Hooker must have when he was in his groove. One of my favorite lines from one of his albums, I believe it was a live set from Soledad Prison, was- “If you can’t dig this, you got a hole in your soul… and that ain’t good“
Here’s a video from the 60’s when he was in midst of being found by the youth around the world. It’s one of his trademark songs, Boom Boom.
Late addition: Here’s the song from Soledad Prison– Boogie Everywhere I Go. Be careful– it’s a deep groove.